Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Companion to The Wednesday Wars

Schmidt, Gary D. Okay for Now. New York: Clarion Books, 2011.
I learned today that Gary Schmidt, author of the magnificent young adult novel The Wednesday Wars (for which, q.v.) recently published a companion novel to it.

The Wednesday Wars has deep and abiding references to Shakespeare throughout. Okay for Now seems to deal more with Audubon's portraits of birds—though I'm hoping for at least a little Shakespeare.

In any case, Schmidt is a master of this genre, and I'm certain this book will be astonishing.
Click below to purchase the film from amazon.com
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Let's Do It—Let's Fall in Love . . . With Shakespeare!

"Let's do it (Let's Fall in Love . . . with Shakespeare)." Music by Cole Porter. Lyrics by Keith Jones. 23 April 2011.
Cole Porter's connections to Shakespeare are many and various, but, if he has one fault, it is that he didn't write any Shakespearean lyrics to his great musical and lyrical tour de force "Let's do it (Let's Fall in Love)." For Shakespeare's birthday this year, I've rectified the omission.

Here's a version of Cole Porter's "Let's do it (Let's Fall in Love)" with lyrics that focus on Shakespeare. Enjoy!


Note: A lower-quality version appears at the end of this post in case the embedded video above fails or falters.

And, in case I didn't enunciate clearly enough, here are the complete lyrics:
Let’s do it (Let’s Fall in Love . . . with Shakespeare)

When the little walk-on part
Feels an aching in her heart
In the wings (wings, wings) . . .
When the Diva in her fur
Loses track and starts to slur
Every thing (thing, thing) . . .
When the author starts to cry, blinks and sniffles, and his eye
Fixes tight to the lights up above,
It is Shakespeare, that is all, simply telling us to fall in love.

Petruchio, as you know, did it.
Juliet and Romeo did it.
Let’s do it—let’s fall in love!
King John (a long time ago) did it.
Even shy Bassanio did it.
Let’s do it—let’s fall in love!
Othello with Desdemon did it, though her father objects.
Miranda and Ferdinand did it—after several shipwrecks.
Lady Macbeth in her sleep did it;
Rosalind—many fathom deep—did it.
Let’s do it. Let’s fall in love!

Hamlet the Dane, mad or sane, did it.
Lear out standing in the rain did it.
Let’s do it—let’s fall in love!
Ophelia with bouquets did it.
The Merry Wives in many ways did it.
Let’s do it—let’s fall in love!
Henry the Fifth, after a fight, did it, uniting England and France.
Marvolio might do it—in ridiculous pants.
Helena and Demetrius do it.
Sir Toby Belch could just do it.
Let’s do it—let’s fall in love!

E’en Shakespeare would, as a kid, do it.
The Earl of Oxford never did do it.
Let’s do it—let’s fall in love!
Groundlings who made lots of noise did it.
Women who were played by boys did it.
Let’s do it—let’s fall in love!
The Rose, the Swan, and the Globe did it, when the plays were on stage.
Players on tour did it—when they closed for the plague.
The Virgin Queen refused to do it.
Kyd, Marlowe, and Greene would do it.
Let’s do it—let’s fall in love!

Sir Laurence Olivier did it.
Dame Judi Dench, they say, did it.
Let’s do it—let’s fall in love!
Sir John Gielgud, in his prime, did it.
Ian McKellen, in our time, did it.
Let’s do it—let’s fall in love!
Emma Thomson we saw do it—with Kenneth Branagh, of course.
Kenneth Branagh did it—then he filed for divorce.
And Orson Welles, once or twice, did it.
Burton, on Liz Taylor’s advice, did it.
Let’s do it—let’s fall in love!

To be or not to be might do it.
Put out the light won’t quite do it.
Let’s do it—let’s fall in love!
My mistress eyes really could do it.
Though I know she lies, that should do it.
Let’s do it—let’s fall in love!
If I compared thee to a summer’s day, would you know what I meant?
Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments.
If music be the food of love, do it.
All ye chaste stars above, do it.
Let’s do it—let’s fall in love!

Even the great Scot Macbeth did it.
Hermione, feigning death, did it.
Let’s do it—let’s fall in love!
Antony and Cleopat did it.
Polonius, that dirty rat, did it.
Let’s do it—let’s fall in love!
In two parts, Falstaff, I’ve heard, did it (with a bottle of sack).
Richard the Third did it—with a hump on his back.
Coriolanus, I know, did it.
Hero and Claudio did it.
Let’s do it—let’s fall in love!

Titania in a dream did it.
Henry the Eighth’s every queen did it.
Let’s do it—let’s fall in love!
Down in Eastcheap, the young Hal did it.
Thomas Wolsey, Cardinal, did it.
Let’s do it—let’s fall in love!
The Ghost of Great Caesar must do it—though the Ides he’ll beware.
Antigonus did it—while pursued by a bear.
Benedick and Beatrice did it.
The Merchant of Venice did it.
Let’s do it—let’s fall in love!
Note: I am indebted to Cole Porter, of course, for the music and the original lyrics on which I based my own; I'm also indebted to Noël Coward, who often sang alternate lyrics to Porter's tune. One line of Coward's particularly struck me, and I owe him credit. In one of his performances, Coward sang, "The Brontës felt that they must do it. / Ernest Hemingway could just do it," and I felt the need to appropriate part of the couplet for Sir Toby Belch.

Additional Note: There is a typo in the video file about five minutes in. I attempted to quote Sonnet 138 from memory on a plane traveling from Phoenix to Minneapolis, and I left out a word. Instead of "When my love swears she is made of truth," the quote should read "When my love swears that she is made of truth." I apologize for the error, and I may be able to fix it at some point in the future when unlimited time comes into my possession. In the meantime, know that I am imperfect and be comforted thereby. Or watch the lower-resolution version—the typo has been fixed there.

Links: The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust's Collection of Blogs in Honor of Shakespeare's Birthday.

Lower-Resolution File:

video

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Charlton Heston's "Friends, Romans, Countrymen."

Julius Caesar. Dir. Stuart Burge. Perf. Charlton Heston, Diana Rigg, Jason Robards, and John Gielgud. 1970. DVD. Republic Paramount, 2006.
While Jason Robards' performance as Brutus leaves much to be desired, Charlton Heston's Mark Anthony is phenomenal. When it comes to the speech over Caesar's body, I've never seen anything to match this one. Heston's Mark Anthony knows the power he has over the crowd of Romans at his feet, and he also knows what chaos is about be unleashed with his words. He regrets it, but he thinks it's inevitable.

video

The tearing of the toga is quite theatrical, as is the sudden display of Caesar's body, but the self-reflexivity of the moment allows us to be caught up in the horror Mark Antony reveals while seeing it from the distance of time and audience.

Here was an Antony. When comes such another?

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Click below to purchase the film from amazon.com
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).


Monday, April 18, 2011

Good Acting v. Bad Acting in Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar. Dir. Stuart Burge. Perf. Charlton Heston, Diana Rigg, Jason Robards, and John Gielgud. 1970. DVD. Republic Paramount, 2006.

A huge backlog of material to cover lurks in the archives of Bardfilm, and if I don't set my mind in "micro" mode (no jokes, please), they'll never get posted.

Here, for example, is a clip I've had around for a year or so. It's from the 1970 film version of Julius Caesar in which Charlton Heston played Mark Antony. I gathered it because I've seldom seen such masterful acting paired with such pitiful acting. The scene is Act II, scene 1, in which Portia pleads with Brutus to share the burdens he carries with her—so that his load may be lightened. Diana Rigg plays her role brilliantly, with sensitivity and understanding, conveying a wide range of emotions. Jason Robards, on the other hand, seems to be phoning it in on a bad connection to a wrong number.

video

I don't wish to be cruel, but the gap between the two levels of acting here really is remarkably wide. What can account for such disparity?

Update (1 August 2012): I've been doing some work on film versions of Julius Caesar recently, and I dipped into Kenneth Rothwell's truly remarkable History of Shakespeare on Screen (for which, q.v.), where I learned at least two interesting things about this film.

1. Orson Welles had been asked to play Brutus in this film: "He was . . . called to play Brutus in the Burge / Snell Julius Caesar (1970), but for obscure reasons had to be replaced at the eleventh hour by Jason Robards, Jr." (89). The world lost something wondrous with that change—so quick bright things come to confusion.

2. Robards' performance could be read as deliberate instead of merely uninspired:
Apparently Jason Robards' low-key performance stemmed from his interpretation of Brutus as an intellectual suppressing his emotions after being traumatized by his entanglement in a political assassination. . . Robards speaks the lines [of Brutus' soliloquy] as if he "lacked affect" (in the psychological sense), totally flat and uninflected. Besides covering up any sign of emotion, Robards also conceived in some high-minded way that "rehearsing in movies should be done just before takes. Then those small spontaneous things can be retained." (154-55)
In this view, it's not awful acting; instead, it's terrible decision-making that is at the back of it. It doesn't make the acting any better, but it helps to explain how an actor who can play other roles quite well failed in this performance.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Click below to purchase the film from amazon.com
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Preliminary Impressions of Prince of the Himalayas

Prince of the Himalayas [Ban dao yin xiang; a.k.a. Ximalaya wangzi]. Dir. Sherwood Hu. Perf. Purba Rgyal, Dobrgyal, Zomskyid, Sonamdolgar, Lobden, and Lopsang. Hus Entertainment, Shanghai Film Studios. 20 October 2006.
The Shakespeare Association of American was able, somehow, to get a copy of Prince of the Himalayas and to offer a screening of it at its convention this year. That alone is astonishing—I've found it nearly impossible to track down this film or anything substantive about it. But the film itself is even more astonishing. The fact that it exists at all already strains credulity. Is it possible to imagine a film made in China that is set in ancient Tibet and that is entirely in Tibetan?

I was able to see it, and images from it have been haunting me ever since. My brain can't quite get around this film and the implications of its existence for the study of global Shakespeare. After I have time to let it percolate, I hope to write a more scholarly analysis (the journal Shakespeare—put out by the British Shakespeare Association—has a call for papers on global Shakespeare, for example). In the meantime, I thought I would provide Bardfilm's readers with a trailer and a detailed plot summary.

video

That trailer gives the merest taste of the film—an entrée en matière (or an amuse-bouche, if you prefer) that serves only to whet the appetite. I wish I could provide you with more illustrative video clips, but I've been unable to track down a copy of the DVD. However, I can provide details of the plot (with some speculative commentary, which I'll put in italics).

Spoiler Alert: Many details of the plot of Shakespeare's Hamlet have been altered and re-arranged in this film. If you hope to see the film yourself someday, stop here.

Disclaimer: I know that I'm doing exactly what I ask my students not to do. The most common error in the essays produced by my Shakespeare and Film classes is providing plot summary and assuming that it is equivalent to analysis. But I think I should be able to get away with it here for two reasons:
  1. In my classes, the students can count on their professor and their peers having seen the film they're writing about and having read the play to which it relates. Plot summary in such circumstances is unnecessary. In this instance, however, I cannot assume that the audience has seen the fllm; they need to know about the plot as a starting point for analysis and discussion.

  2. No one is assigning a grade to this blog post—at least, not an official, accredited grade.
With that in mind, we can proceed to . . .

A Detailed Plot Summary of Prince of the Himalayas:

The film opens with a solitary figure on a snowy landscape with vast mountains in the background. The man approaches the edge of a stream and says, "Spirit of Heaven. He is dead. I beg the shelter of your forgiveness." He then lets go of a puppy and watches it amble off.

Almost immediately, a female figure appears and makes this announcement: "The King is dead—with a new king, a river of blood will flow."

The first figure is Kulo-ngam, the Claudius analogue. The woman is called "The Wolf Woman" thorough the rest of the film—except for one point where she is called "Po." The film establishes from the start two themes: Calling on "the Spirit of Heaven" and the river of blood.

The next section shows us alternating images of Prince Lhamoklodan (the Hamlet analogue) rushing home and Tibetan funeral rites. We learn a bit about the Jiabo (that's how the subtitles spelled it, though I see "Jiaobo" on some websites) and their traditions by this means. When he arrives, Lhamoklodan insists on knowing why—why they did not delay his father's funeral until his arrival. Nanm (the Gertrude figure) tells him that his uncle will rule as regent until Lhamoklodan becomes of age.

In my post on "Shakespeare in the Bush" (for which, q.v.), I wondered what aspects of the plot of Hamlet might need to be changed in transferring it to another culture. I wonder if this explanation of the transfer of power derives from the culture at hand or if it is a convenient way to make the Claudius analogue King of the Himalayas for the time being. As we'll see, the motivation here is complicated.

We soon cut to a meeting between Lhamoklodan and Odsaluyang (the Ophelia analogue). He presents her with an ivory-handled blade. Later, this blade will stand in for the "remembrances" that she has "longed long to redeliver" to him.

Several quick scenes follow. We hear the announcement that Kulo-ngam intends to marry his sister-in-law. At that news, Po-lha-nyisse (I'll leave it to your ingenuity to guess which character he follows most closely) gasps, letting us know that, for the Jiabo culture of this time, this is shockingly unexpected.

We cut to a vast river that runs near Odsaluyang's hut (or a hut from which she exits)—for those familiar with Hamlet, this seems like some heavy-handed foreshadowing, but it may be there to mislead us.

After that, it's made quite clear that that Hamlet and Ophelia are sleeping together (though they are unmarried). There's a brief, semi-explicit love-making scene; at the end of it, we cut to a naked Lhamoklodan riding on a horse across a plain. Then we cut back to Hamlet, looking at the camera upside-down and in close-up. The symbolism seems fairly straightforward there.

After that, we turn our attention to some sort of celebration. Gertrude and Claudius briefly but suggestively touch hands while passing a bowl. Hamlet seems to react negatively—though I may be misreading the subtleties of his reaction. And Po-lha-nyisse simply watches on, gathering material for his own purposes.

In the next scene, we meet Horshu, who is the Horatio analogue. He doesn’t have much of a role later in the film, but, in this scene, we have almost a line-by-line translation of Shakespeare's text. Lhamoklodan tells Horshu that he sees his father—in his mind's eye—and that provides Horshu with the opportunity to relate what he saw the night before. Essentially, Horshu's report and the following scene (in which Lhamoklodan meets the spirit of his departed father) are parallel to the comparable scenes in Hamlet.

Here's a brief point that I will need to consider later. When Lhamoklodan, Horshu, and one or two others swear not to report what they have seen, they grab each others' thumbs. Is this another example of cultural difference? Is that how to swear in Tibetan?

For the next thirty minutes or so of the film, the plot known to readers of Hamlet is disjointed and disordered. It's a bit like reading the first quarto (known as "the bad quarto") of Hamlet. And there are additions by another hand as well. The Wolf Woman re-enters and tells the story of two men and of a battle between the two. We learn that the Hamlet, Sr. analogue tries to kill the Claudius analogue, suspecting him of infidelity with his queen. But the Wolf Woman’s narrative breaks off at that point.

Again, we have several brief scenes in rapid succession:
  • Part of a play-within-the-play scene.

  • Laertes’ advice to Ophelia.

  • Hamlet's calling Polonius a Fishmonger (in this version, he's called "a slave"). Polonius' advice to Hamlet "to stay out of the wind," to which he replies, "Into my grave?"

  • Something like the scene when Ophelia is sewing in her closet. Hamlet seems a bit mad and gives Ophelia a letter on sheepskin while Polonius, in the background, seems to look on.

  • Polonius' report to the king and queen on the cause of Hamlet's apparent madness.
Note: The letter that Hamlet has given to Ophelia and that Polonius reads to the King and Queen is identical to the one in Shakespeare's text: "Doubt that the stars are fire; / Doubt that the sun doth move; / Doubt truth to be a liar; / But never doubt I love." That poem is, as far as I remember, given in full.
  • We next get a tiny bit of a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern analogue.

  • The Wolf Woman’s troop of actors approaches.

  • More play-within-the-play: the Wolf Woman tells "a story from a long time ago"; in the middle of it, we cut to a flashback of Hamlet's encounter with the spirit.

  • The Wolf Woman mentions “a dog that contains murderous thoughts,” at which the Claudius analogue cries.

  • Lhamoklodan asks Nanm how she likes the play, and she replies, “This woman’s heart has been split in two”—a line that is later repeated by Nanm to describe herself in the closet scene.
After another brief flashback to the encounter with the ghost, the changes this film makes to the plot of Hamlet become more apparent, more substantial, and more significant.

Kulo-ngam / Claudius tells Nanm / Gertrude that he wants to turn the throne over to Lhamoklodan / Hamlet. We start to get the impression that there's more to this Kulo-ngam than we suspected—perhaps because those who have read Hamlet are predisposed to think of the Claudius figure in a certain way. We also watch as Nanm asks Kulo-ngam how the analogue to Hamlet, Sr. died. The implication, particularly as the two of them are alone and completely unobserved, is that Nanm does not know anything about her husband's death—and that she is, therefore, not complicit in any foul play that may have been involved in his death.

Are these alternate directions / alternate characterizations driven by cultural considerations? Or are they intended to keep the Hamlet-soaked audience on its toes?

Another fascinating departure from Shakespeare's plot follows. We are presented with an mind-shaking scene in which the analogue for Hamlet, Sr. and the Wolf Woman have an argument about what Lhamoklodan should be doing. Hamlet, Sr., true to the analogous character in Shakespeare's play, desperately insists on Lhamoklodan's getting revenge on Kulo-ngam. The Wolf Woman, who might otherwise be seen as comparable to the witches in Macbeth—making equivocal statements and looking for chaos—argues for prudence.

This is one of the most remarkable things about this derivative version of Hamlet. The addition of the soothsayer character is intriguing, particularly as her role in all of this encompasses (after a fashion) the narrator, the Players, providence, Fortinbras, the Ghost, and Osric. This strange, supernatural encounter embodies Hamlet's reluctance to take decisive action and the internal and external factors that force him to do so. The scene seems to be somehow related to the second appearance of the ghost in Hamlet—a reminder that there is a supernatural call for vengeance—but this one is entirely separate from any engagement with Hamlet. But I think that Lhamoklodan has one more vision of the spirit in this film—during the closet scene—although I may be misremembering that.

We have another brief scene where Kulo-ngam is at prayers while Lhamoklodan considers whether he should kill him or not. In this version, Po-lha-nyisse seems to be observing the entire scene.

As in Hamlet, we move on to a scene where Lhamoklodan challenges Nanm in her bedchamber while Po-lha-nyisse listens from behind a curtain. In this derivative, it's not clear whether anyone asked him to be there. He doesn't tell Kulo-ngam that he intends to overhear the scene; Nanm seems as startled as anyone when the identity of the man behind the curtain is revealed.

Even though we have learned that Nanm has had nothing to do with the murder of her husband, this scene reveals that she has more than enough motive—and her motivation takes a different form than most productions of Hamlet provide—if motivation is provided at all (i.e., the relatively-recent love she has for Claudius). Nanm tells Lhamoklodan that she was in love with Kulo-ngam before Lhamoklodan was born.

At this point, if not earlier, we start to wonder how all this fits together. If Nanm loved Kulo-ngam, why did she marry the man she married? And what are the implications of her marrying a man she didn't love? Is Lhamoklodan's grief not shared by Nanm? Did Nanm desire her husband's death? Did she encourage Kulo-ngam to bring his death about, either consciously or unconsciously?

Nanm says that she was forced into a marriage that she neither sought nor desired seventeen years ago. No details of how she was forced are forthcoming; perhaps it is enough that the King wished to marry her and the King's younger brother had no way of objecting.

Lhamoklodan, in the midst of the turmoil that this revelation causes, hears a noise behind a curtain and thinks—well, in this production, I'm not sure we're led to any particular surmise about what he's thinking. In any case, he's absolutely shocked to find that Po-lha-nyisse was behind the curtain. The scene is one of the best in the film in its acting and cinematography.

When he sees what he has done, Lhamoklodan stabs himself in the leg out of overwhelming remorse or a desire for all this horror to end. He's confined to his bed while the Wolf Woman heals him.

The film next takes us to a private exchange between Kulo-ngam and Nanm. In it, Kulo-ngam confesses to Nanm that he killed her husband and his brother. She accuses him of being power-hungry in seizing the throne while he tries to defend his actions by insisting that he did everything out of love for her—and to protect Lhamoklodan. He repeats the Wolf Woman's opening prophecy—"The King is dead—with a new king, a river of blood will flow"—and says that that’s the reason why he claimed the throne—to protect Lhamoklodan. He has interpreted the prophecy to mean that the new king will be the one to shed his blood. He has selflessly taken on the kingship so that Lhamoklodan will not suffer from the bloodshed prophesied.

As in Macbeth, the prophecy is equivocal. Kulo-ngam's interpretation of it may be wrong.

The Wolf Woman's story continues. She reveals that Nanm slept with Kulo-ngam before her wedding to the Hamlet, Sr. analogue. In flashback, we see some of that encounter.

It's becoming clearer and clearer that Kulo-ngam is Lhamoklodan’s biological father. The alteration to Shakespeare's plot is intriguing, altering as substantially as it does almost all the major relationships in the play. Kulo-ngam's motivation to protect Lhamoklodan, his desire to marry Nanm, and Nanm's hatred of her husband all click into place at this point.

But there's not much time to dwell on that revelation. Another series of quick scenes follows. We learn that the Sabo (Subi?) nation is on the border. Fortinbras, who will turn out to be an attractive woman, is on the move!

We have something of a nunnery scene; Odsaluyang returns the ivory-handled blade that Lhamoklodan had given her earlier.

Lhamoklodan, on what seems to be a self-imposed exhile, sees a group of soldiers and is captured by them in the ensuing battle. The leader of the troops demands to know his name before killing him, but when he reveals himself as Lhamoklodan, the threat ends, and the two of them have a pleasant discussion. Ajisuji is the name of the film's female Fortinbras. She says they’re attacking Persians for a trade route, which leads into a version of "How all occasions do inform against me." The two of them exchange swords, which seems to be a mutual non-aggression pact.

Interspersed with all that, we get various scenes of Odsaluyang associated with water.

Lhamoklodan determines to return to the palace and fulfill the spirit's demand for revenge on Kulo-ngam. As he nears home, he encounters the Wolf Woman once again. She warns Lhamoklodan not to return. I wish I could recall her exact words on this point. I believe there are echoes of the river of blood prophecy here.

The scene itself is another cinematographic triumph. Lhamoklodan and his companions are on one side of an enormous gulf; the Wolf Woman is on the other, shouting her warning across the gulf to enable herself to be heard. We can read the scene as symbolic of the gulf between the spirit world and the world of the living and of the potential for miscommunication between the two worlds.

The Laertes analogue returns at this point and threatens to kill Lhamoklodan. Kulo-ngam says that that will only happen over his dead body.

Various hints and subtleties in the preceding scenes have suggested that Odsaluyang is pregnant. At this point, the film makes it completely clear that she is not only pregnant but that she is about to give birth. In the pain of labor and with a considerable amount of bleeding, she approaches the stream. She lies on her back in the stream, and the water runs red with blood.

This is a partial fulfillment of the Wolf Woman's prophecy. What might have been a figurative prophecy turns out—at this point, at least—to be literal.

The film provides a haunting image of Odsaluyang, dead in the water, and of the baby to whom she has just given birth drifting away from her. At the very last instant before a jump cut, we think we see the baby move.

We cut to the Wolf Woman, who hears a cry and rescues the baby from the stream. She says, “Prince . . . prince of the Himalayas!”

Our attention is next drawn to Odsaluyang's funeral. The Laertes analogue asks the question about whether nothing more can be done for her, and the priest answers, "She has been given the rites due a virgin—isn't that enough?" The implication moves the discussion of suicide to the question of virginity.

The rest of the film seems to fly by. Lhamoklodan and the Laertes' analogue have a shockingly-violent exchange over Odsaluyang's spirit boat. Then we hear the news of a "Rare Poison Lap Dog" that Kulo-ngam was somehow able to obtain and to use to cause his brother's death. That seems to be the puppy Kulo-ngam released at the film's opening. While we get images of Lhamoklodan recovering from his encounter with Laertes, something like "To be or not to be" is presented in voiceover. Somewhere in here, Lhamoklodan learns that his uncle is his father and his father is his uncle.

While Lhamoklodan lies in bed, Kulo-ngam and Nanm join hands over him and (I think I'm remembering this correctly) raise one of his hands to entwine with theirs. The chance of a happy ending is in the air!

But Lhamoklodan pushes their hands away.

A fencing match of sorts follows. Lhamoklodan and the Laertes analogue take turns hitting each other with swords—one of which has been poisoned by Kulo-ngam—but, in this film, it's poisoned so that Lhamoklodan will be safe from the analogue for Laertes. Kulo-ngam has also prepared a poisoned cup of wine for the Laertes analogue to drink if the sword doesn't work. And, since Lhamoklodan and Laertes exchange swords before the match even begins, he needs that backup plan.

The end of Prince of the Himalayas falls in line with Shakespeare's Hamlet. Lhamoklodan is wounded with the poisoned sword; Laertes is later wounded with the same sword; Nanm drinks the poison by mistake; Kulo-ngam also dies—though I can't remember exactly how.

But there are still two differences between this film and Shakespeare's play. Lhamoklodan seems to cross over to the spirit world to deny Hamlet, Sr.'s demand for revenge. The two figures confront each other, the spirit asking, once more, for vengeance; Lhamoklodan refuses. And we are given one more glimpse of Lhamoklodan and Odsaluyang's baby. The baby is announced as King of Jiabo. One of the people with whom I saw the film said that the Fortinbras analogue was holding the baby at the end.

Undeniably, Prince of the Himalayas gives us an enormous serving of food for thought. This lengthy post is exactly what the title says: preliminary. The future will hold deeper analyses—from me and from many other scholars. I look forward with great anticipation to that future.
Links: The Film's Official Web Site.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Bond Revisited

Bond: A Taiwan BangZi Opera Adaptation of The Merchant of Venice. Dir. Po-Shen Lu. Perf. Hai-ling Wang, Mei-li Chu, Chien-hua Liu, and Ya-ling Hsiao. Adapted by Ching-Hsi Perng and Fang Chen. Shakespeare Association of America. Bellevue, Washintgon. 7 April 2011.
Update: With significant amounts of computer jiggery-pokery, I was able to get the DVD of Bond that I bought to work. The DVD reveals that some of the elements that were cut from Shakespeare's text for the live performance I saw were not cut from a lengthier version of which this DVD is the recording. For example, at least one more suitor is included in the longer performance.

I was also able to extract part of the Shylock analogue's song about the basic humanity of the Saracens. That, more than anything, will give you a taste of the production:

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That voice—and the voices of the others in the production—is simply amazing. It's so sharp that you can cut yourself on it if you're not careful.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Bond: Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice in Mandarin Chinese

Bond: A Taiwan BangZi Opera Adaptation of The Merchant of Venice. Dir. Po-Shen Lu. Perf. Hai-ling Wang, Mei-li Chu, Chien-hua Liu, and Ya-ling Hsiao. Adapted by Ching-Hsi Perng and Fang Chen. Shakespeare Association of America. Bellevue, Washintgon. 7 April 2011.
Because of the incredibly-helpful, beyond-the-call-of-duty work of a Southwest Airlines employee named Craig, I was able, despite heavy fog at the Denver International Airport that caused me to miss a connecting flight, to reach Bellevue in time for the Taiwanese Merchant of Venice at the Shakespeare Association of America’s annual convention.

I was frantic to see it; having seen it, I find that my frantic state should have been upgraded to hysterical. It was amazing. Missing it would have been deeply regrettable.

The production is a Bangzi Opera version of The Merchant of Venice, containing spoken and sung dialogue, almost all of which is accompanied by music from a group of ten or fifteen musicians. The music was brilliant, the voices of the singers were powerful, the costumes were gorgeous, and the acting was sensational. The major parts were all played by women, making the audience bring a similar suspension of disbelief to the one Shakespeare's contemporary audience brought to the threatre when they saw Portia played by a male actor. And the adaptation of the plot was completely intriguing, giving us a great deal to think about.

I'm hindered in thinking about it by two things. First, it's 3:30 a.m., and I'm in the Seattle airport waiting for an early flight out. Second, my copy of Alexander C. Y. Huang's Chinese Shakespeares (for which, q.v.) is over a thousand miles away. His book and a few more hours of sleep would provide a helpful perspective and greater lucidity to these comments—but I'll make a start without them.

The main plot is essentially identical to Shakespeare's. Jessica is cut, as is all that goes along with her, and we don't see any suitors other than Bassanio, but the plot is otherwise the same.

At the core of Shakespeare's play lies conflict between Jews and Christians. In Bond, the two parties are the Saracen and the Cathayan. For the Westerner with limited acquaintance with these terms, this gives a certain exotic flavor to the production, but it also limits the deeper resonances of the historical religious (and economic and social and national) conflict between Christians and Jews. And, in limiting (though not eliminating) that depth, it makes our perception of the Shylock analogue less complicated. In Shakespeare's play, it's easy to be sympathetic to Shylock, and it's difficult to be sympathetic to anti-Semitic characters (and, rightly, impossible to be sympathetic to anti-Semitism itself). In this production, we have an over-the-top, moustache-twirling villain at whom we can far more easily laugh and in whose downfall we can more thoroughly rejoice.

The Shylock analogue is a Saracen—in other words, an Arab trader living in China—while the rest of the cast (with the exception of a minor accomplice for Shylock) are Cathayans—in other words, Chinese. I wish I knew more (and you can be sure I'll be working to find out more) about the way these two groups have interacted throughout history. But the opera presents Shylock as a marginalized—yet significant and even necessary—man who "Takes the bone with the meat when he eats" and charges thirty percent interest on the loans he makes.

Indeed, money serves as the main motivation for the Shylock analogue. When we get to the "Hath not a Saracen?" song, we discover that it is more about money than about religion or about basic humanity. We do get a "What's the difference between us?" song that focuses more on the essential humanity of both Saracen and Cathayan, but the anger Shylock feels at Antonio's lending out money without interest is given a much higher priority as a motivation of his revenge.

Issues of religion are avoided in this production. Although he is an Arab, he is neither Moslem nor Christian (for all the opera tells us). Instead, he serves mammon. While Shakespeare's Shylock says he must demand his bond because he has a vow in heaven, the opera's Shylock analogue twice says, "By my god of wealth, I have sworn an oath."

I believe that this heightens the humor of the play. We can take the Shylock analogue as more of a stock character—the greedy banker—and we can laugh more easily at that. At one point, Shylock seems greatly tempted by the offer of thrice his original loan. His accomplice has to pull him aside and shake his head "No" before Shylock returns to his demand of a pound of flesh.

We were able to laugh at that—and we were able to laugh at the demand placed on the Shylock analogue at the end of the trial scene. Instead of being asked to become a Christian, Shylock has to become a naturalized Cathayan citizen, and he has to promise to "Never wear outlandish clothing anymore."

The resetting in an ostensibly less-charged conflict is the main point of interest to me. More minor points include the use of birdcages instead of caskets and Portia's clear hints to Bassanio about which casket he ought to choose, but I'll save those for another occasion.

And I would love to know Alexander Huang's position on the two points at which it is evident—even to the novice—that "authentic" Bangzi opera has been disregarded. The Shylock figure twice slips into English in his responses. At one point, he says, "Right on," which got a big laugh (though I found it more startling than funny); later, he says, "Of course" in English. These two moments seemed to cater to the largely-English-speaking audience at the expense of authenticity. Then again, the production was based on a play by the largely-English-speaking William Shakespeare, so how can I complain?

I bought a DVD after the production, but it doesn't work in my computer, and I wasn't able to exchange it for a different copy. It remains to be seen whether it will work in another computer or in a regular DVD player. If it does, I may be able to provide a clip or two in the future.

Update: A short clip is now available!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Folger Summer Institute at the Folger Shakespeare Library

“Shakespeare: From the Globe to the Global.” National Endowment for the Humanities. Folger Shakespeare Library. Folger Summer Institute, 2011. Photo Credit: Courtesy Folger Shakespeare Library.
I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve been accepted to this year’s Folger Summer Institute at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Twenty scholars from around the world will spend five weeks meeting with some of the best and brightest Shakespeareans in one of the premier Shakespeare research libraries.

This year’s title is “Shakespeare: From the Globe to the Global.” Habitual readers of Bardfilm will realize that the topic fits extraordinarily well with both my informal writing here and my more formal scholarship elsewhere.

To say that I’m looking forward to the institute is an understatement of almost-British proportions. This will be a remarkable, fruitful, exciting time, and I’m more grateful to the Folger Shakespeare Library than I can say for this exceptional and exceptionally-delightful opportunity.
Links: The Folger Shakespeare Library.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Prince of the Himalayas Comes to Bellevue

Prince of the Himalayas [Ban dao yin xiang; a.k.a. Ximalaya wangzi]. Dir. Sherwood Hu. Perf. Purba Rgyal, Dobrgyal, Zomskyid, Sonamdolgar, Lobden, and Lopsang. Hus Entertainment, Shanghai Film Studios. 20 October 2006.
Thanks to a generous grant from Northwestern College, I will be able to attend the Shakespeare Association of America's Annual Convention this year (in Bellevue, Washington). The prospect is absolutely thrilling. Not only will the Taiwan Bangzi Company present a play adapted from The Merchant of Venice, but the conference will also screen a film entitled Ban dao yin xiang (Prince of the Himalayas), a derivative of Hamlet set in Tibet. Scholars in other parts of the world have been able to view and to write about that film, but it is virtually impossible to find a way to see it in the United States (two universities in Australia own non-circulating copies, but I have not been able to find it elsewhere). And (as if that weren’t enough), a concert of songs related to Ophelia will be performed during the convention. These songs will cover both global and historical perspectives on Ophelia and on the texts she sings in Hamlet.

Wait! There's more! The speakers at the conference include some of the most important Shakespeare scholars of the day: Stephen Orgel, Paul Yachnin, Russ McDonald, Karen Newman, David Bevington, and others are scheduled to speak this year.

Look for posts from Bardfilm about the Asian adaptations and derivatives presented at the conference. The Prince of the Himalayas (a.k.a. The Fresh Prince of Bellevue) promises to be exceptionally interesting for the study of global Shakespeares.
Links: The Film at IMDB.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Newly-Discovered Shakespeare Poem: Previously-Misattributed Poem Rightfully Attributed to Shakespeare!

“Loss of Good Name.” Previously attributed to Edward de Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford. Printed in Poems of Edward de Vere. Ed. J. Thomas Looney. London: C. Palmer, 1921. 22-23.

Normally, an announcement of this kind takes place in scholarly journals. But I felt impelled to tell you about this today.

The poem “Fram’d in the front of forlorn hope past all recovery” (a.k.a. “Loss of Good Name”) has been traditionally attributed to Edward de Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford. No one has ever considered that Shakespeare might be the true author of the poem, primarily because the poem itself (printed in full below) is so very, very bad. But it occurred to me that this is likely to be a work of Shakespearean juvenilia: a truly awful poem tossed off in his youth (from the style, I imagine he could not have been more than twelve years old when he composed it). In this post, I hope to examine the arguments on either side and arrive at the conclusion that I set out at the beginning to prove.

The argument against it being by Shakespeare:

Essentially, the arguments are threefold. First, tradition has insisted that the poem is by someone other than Shakespeare. Second, a conspiracy of Oxfordians have conspired together to carry on a conspiracy to cover up the true authorship of this poem. Disregarding any contrary evidence and refusing to debate on equal terms, the Oxfordians insist on maintaining the fiction that this poem is by Edward de Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford. Third, the poem, if it is Shakespeare’s, clearly isn’t Shakespeare’s best effort.

Each of these arguments can be easily countered. Tradition, as we know, holds no scholarly weight—a lesson we have ironically learned from the Oxfordians themselves. Conspiracies are easy to carry out, particularly when the stakes are high. And Shakespeare has written bad poetry—or, to qualify that claim appropriately, he has written poetry that is not at the highest point of genius. Consider, for example, the bad poetry the rude mechanicals recite in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Shakespeare may have written this bad poem for reasons of his own—or, as I will suggest, in his youth when he didn’t know any better.

The argument for it being by Oxford:

First, the poem is pretty bad, and that particular adverb / adjective combination describes the majority of the Earl’s poetic output. But badness, however much a part of Oxford’s style, is not an exclusive quality. Other poets have written badly—either intentionally, unintentionally, or in their youth. The poem’s sheer inadequacy is not enough to make its proposed authorship by Oxford certain.

Second, the poem has traditionally been attributed to Oxford. But the Oxfordians can present no contemporary evidence that this is the case. If it were by the Earl, we would expect to find contemporary references to it—perhaps a letter from one of the Earl’s acquaintances to another, reading something like, “Have you seen the latest bosh from Eddie? It’s better than most of his maudlin verse, but it’s still a stinkeroo, eh, what?” No such evidence exists.

Third, the poem seems to be signed “E.O.” Oxfordians make the case that these two letters stand for “Earl Oxford.” In making this preposterous claim, they neglect two important pieces of germane information:
  1. If the initials stand for the Earl’s title, what explains the inexplicable absence of an O standing for “of”? “Earl Oxford” simply wasn’t a title for any of the de Veres. The title more correctly reads “Earl of Oxford,” which, if initials are used, would equate to “E.O.O.” or “E.o.O.”

  2. The initialism “E.O.” was similar to modern internet initialisms (viz., LOL, BRB, TTYL, OMUTB, et cetera). Contemporary readers would have instantly translated the initialism “E.O.” to “Esbrandill Ord.” The verb “esbrandill” and the noun “ord” have fallen out of fashion, most unfortunately. Had they not, these initials would be recognized as a slightly-veiled reference to their true author. See the images below (taken from The Oxford English Dictionary) to piece together the true meaning of E.O. for yourself:



The logical progression is quite clear: “E.O.” = “Esbrandill Ord” = “Shake Spear” = “Shakespeare.” That evidence is, in my puddling parvipension (in other words, humble opinion—check the O.E.D. if you have any questions), irrefutable.

The argument against it being by Oxford:

Even though the poem is very bad, it seems to be better than Edward de Vere is capable of composing. There’s virtually no overlap between Shakespeare at his worst and de Vere at his best, as you can see from the chart below:



As the chart clearly indicates, Oxford’s poetry occasionally stretches very near the “Good” mark, but Shakespeare’s poetic ability starts at good and stretches far past the “Genius” level. Since it is easier for a good poet to write bad poetry than a bad poet to write good poetry, it is impossible that de Vere wrote this poem.

It’s also clear from the poem itself that Oxford could not have written it. The poem alludes to things outside the experience of an English aristocrat in the Renaissance. Where could Edward de Vere have found out about “birds and worms” (line 15)? What could he have known about any of the things “that on the earth do toil” (15)? Would Oxford ever have asked for “Help” (10; cf. 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17) of any kind, especially from “fish” and “fowl” (16)? The very idea is ridiculous in the extreme. These things were all completely unknown—and completely unknowable—by the English aristocracy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Edward de Vere simply did not have the knowledge that the author of this poem had.

Furthermore, Edward de Vere was not subject to “shame and infamy” (2), as is clear from the murder he committed and its subsequent cover-up. Based on this fact, it is impossible that he would have considered that his “good name” could ever have been lost!

The argument for it being by Shakespeare:

But if Edward de Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford didn’t write the poem, who did?

As is frequently the case, an examination of the text itself gives us a clear indication of the author behind it. I have put together a list of those qualities the author of this poem must have possessed. Once we examine those, we can determine which Elizabethan they most clearly indicate.
  1. The author was raised in a small town that had easy access to worms and birds but that was also large enough to possess echoes, sheep, and a graveyard.

  2. The author intended to travel to London to seek his fortune.

  3. The author hoped to marry young and intended to seek a wife some years older than he, ideally marrying her after she had become pregnant with his child.

  4. The author had a gift—as yet undeveloped or underdeveloped—for composing dramatic poetry.

  5. The author suspected that he would, in later life, suffer from hereditary male pattern baldness.
I have a fairly-comprehensive grasp of Elizabethan and Jacobean personages, having read the National Dictionary of Biography entries on Christopher Marlowe, Elizabeth (Queen, the First), William Shakespeare, Edward de Vere, Elizabeth Carey, Ben Jonson, and up to five others, and no one—no one at all—better fits these characteristics then William Shakespeare. It’s truly uncanny how clearly the life of the man from Stratford matches the characteristics listed above.

Naturally, a cipher also contributes to the evidence, though I will not make too much of it. Unless based on the most profound evidence, as this one is, ciphers and cryptography in general form an uncertain art. Fortunately, the ground for this cipher is rock solid. Taking a map of the constellation “Cassiopeia” (alluded to in the third stanza) and superimposing it on the poem provides us with this intriguing and convincing “internal signature” of the true author of the poem (see image above and to the right).

The stars in the constellation clearly trace the letters “S-h-a-c-e-s-spea-r-e.” Doubters will no doubt consider that “Shacesspeare” is an odd spelling, especially because there are Ks in the poem (and the cryptogram uses a C with a K sound instead) and there is no apparent need to double the S in the middle of the name, but spelling was notoriously unfixed during Shakespeare’s day. In addition, Shakespeare must have wanted to remain somewhat anonymous during this period—probably because the poem is pretty bad, as he himself would have recognized. Doubtless, he wanted credit for the poem—but he wanted that credit to come eventually rather than immediately, after he had established his name as a poet of the highest distinction. The misspelling was intended either to mislead his contemporaries or to provide him with “deniability.”

As tremendously convincing as the evidence of the cipher is, the text itself reveals even more proof that the poem’s true author was William Shakespeare. Even though the following line is nauseating, vile, putrid, and contemptible (and better than anything the Earl of Oxford could ever write), it does have a certain affinity with a line from one of Shakespeare’s plays:
My life, through ling’ring long, is lodg’d in lair of loathsome ways . . . (3)
If taken seriously, that line is despicable. When Shakespeare has gained more experience, he realizes that an intentionally-bad line can be used remarkably effectively in a humorous context. Quince recites a prologue foretelling the death of Pyramus, played by Bottom the Weaver, in the play-within-the-play of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. That prologue contains these horrible—and horribly funny—lines:
Whereat, with blade, with bloody blameful blade,
He bravely broach’d his boiling bloody breast . . . (V.i.148-49)
The overdone alliteration is perfect for this incredibly comic moment even though it was, in Shakespeare’s earlier poem, laughable beyond all speaking of it.

The loss of reputation is, in this poem, considered in only the lightest, most flippant manner:
The only loss of my good name is of these griefs the ground. (6)
Later in his career, Shakespeare would realize that the subject could be sounded far more fully:
Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls:
Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;
’Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands:
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him
And makes me poor indeed. (Othello, III.iii.155-61)
The earlier poem is lame; the latter consideration (even though it is placed in the mouth of Iago) is divine. How far Shakespeare came from this work of juvenilia!

Finally, note the utter, mixed-up incomprehensibility of this couplet:
And since my mind, my wit, my head, my voice and tongue are weak,
To utter, move, devise, conceive, sound forth, declare and speak . . . (7-8)
The first line contains four nouns (considering “voice and tongue” to be a syllepsis—or, more accurately, a zeugma); the second line contains seven verbs. No matter how you slice it, it doesn’t add up. The mind might conceive, the wit might devise, the voice and tongue might utter, and the head might move (at present, mine is, by way of example, shaking in mild disbelief at the sheer idiocy of the lines), but we have three extra verbs with no specific nouns to go with them. This is poetically and logical unconscionable.

Shakespeare would use a much more refined version of this concept twice more in later works—once humorously and once with pathos. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Bottom the weaver has a similar nonsensical set of lines (which play with the language of 1 Corinthians 2:9):
The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream was. (IV.i.211-14)
With greater tragedy at the formerly-sound mind breaking under the weight of woe, he uses the idea in the speech Ophelia gives to conclude her part of the nunnery scene:
O, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!
The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s, eye, tongue, sword . . . (III.i.150-51)
In this instance, he gives us three possessives and three nouns but does not clarify which goes with which. Is it the courtier’s eye or the courtier’s tongue? Is it the soldier’s tongue or the soldier’s sword? Is it the scholar’s sword or the scholar’s eye? The disconnection in Ophelia’s rhetoric indicates the cracks that are forming in her own noble mind. It’s a much more effective use of the idea than in the frankly pathetic lines in his juvenile poem.

It’s a bad poem, certainly. But for a twelve-year-old Shakespeare, it’s not that bad. Fortunately, Shakespeare’s juvenilia (of which this is the earliest example) served as exercises that enabled him to develop his true genius later.

How could the mistake have been made?

The most probable explanation is that the Earl of Oxford, recognizing that he could never aspire even to the fairly-flat heights of this mediocre poem and yet desiring someone, somewhere to think that he had the tiniest, most miniscule, most infinitesimally minute spark of poetry in him, hinted to certain members of his circle that, perhaps, “E.O.” meant something other than “Esbrandill Ord” in this instance. Perhaps he said something like, “If that poem were signed “E.O.O.,” one might be convinced that I was its author. Ha, ha. Those are my initials, after all. Yes, indeed. Earl of Oxford, that’s I!” Although skeptical at first, his acquaintances may have eventually spread the untrue rumor to less-discerning members of the general public, where the deception caught on until modern Oxfordians could carry on the conspiracy.

Here’s the poem itself, in full:
“Loss of Good Name”
Fram’d in the front of forlorn hope past all recovery,
I stayless stand, to abide the shock of shame and infamy.
My life, through ling’ring long, is lodg’d in lair of loathsome ways;
My death delay’d to keep from life the harm of hapless days.
My sprites, my heart, my wit and force, in deep distress are drown’d;
The only loss of my good name is of these griefs the ground.

And since my mind, my wit, my head, my voice and tongue are weak,
To utter, move, devise, conceive, sound forth, declare and speak,
Such piercing plaints as answer might, or would my woeful case,
Help crave I must, and crave I will, with tears upon my face,
Of all that may in heaven or hell, in earth or air be found,
To wail with me this loss of mine, as of these griefs the ground.

Help Gods, help saints, help sprites and powers that in the heaven do dwell,
Help ye that are aye wont to wail, ye howling hounds of hell;
Help man, help beasts, help birds and worms, that on the earth do toil;
Help fish, help fowl, that flock and feed upon the salt sea soil,
Help echo that in air doth flee, shrill voices to resound,
To wail this loss of my good name, as of these griefs the ground.

E.O.
Thank you for allowing me to reclaim this lost and disregarded Shakespeare poem, misattributed to the Earl of Oxford for centuries. May the world take note that this poem’s author was correctly identified as William Shakespeare on this, the first day of April, 2011.

Links: One year ago today at Bardfilm.
Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
All material original to this blog is copyrighted: Copyright 2008-2012 by Keith Jones.

The very instant that I saw you did / My heart fly to your service; there resides, / To make me slave to it; and, for your sake, / Am I this patient [b]log-man.

—The Tempest